Amelia Earhart said that preparation “is rightly two-thirds of any venture.” Your amount of interview preparation determines how well you perform in your interview, and your interview performance is the determining factor in whether or not you receive a job offer.
Just like an audition for an actor or musician, your interview is a type of test. The good news is that a test can be aced. In order to ace any test, you first need to understand what’s going to be on the test. Think about the open position you are interviewing for as a “problem,” and you, the candidate, will be the solution to that problem.
Let’s say you’re a marketing professional. Take a step back and think about why marketing exists in the first place. It’s to inform and engage potential customers about a product or service. The next question to ask yourself is, “What’s hard about that?” You want to come up with two to three high-level reasons.
For example, first, you have to capture people’s attention in a crowded space. And then once you have their attention, you have to communicate your value so it appears better than a competitor. Now that you’ve identified the problem, ask yourself, “What are the skills that would be most helpful in solving that problem?” In our marketing example, creativity and bold communication would be incredibly useful. Now imagine your interviewer asks you, “What strengths do you possess that would make you successful in this position?”
You might answer with something like, “I’m a thoughtful and compassionate leader who listens deeply and helps level up the skills of every person on my team.” While that’s a good response, and most organizations can benefit from good leadership, that response is not as valuable as this one: “I’m a strategic and inspiring communicator who finds joy in delighting future customers with bold, value-based communication.”
The first response regarding elevating others would work well if the position problem was about leveling up a team of marketing professionals with differing levels of competency. The second response, however, is addressing the language of the problem. If you’re not presenting yourself as the solution to the problem, someone else is. Here’s a three-step process to better understand the problem of your interview so you can ace the test.
1. Conduct a high-level analysis of the industry or company pain points.
2. Gain insider intelligence from the recruiter or hiring manager.
3. Undertake a detailed analysis of the job description.
First, start with your own high-level knowledge of the industry and your role, just like the marketing example we discussed. Second, use insider intelligence. You’ll gain this through your conversations with folks who work there who can give you the inside scoop on the problem. This may be a recruiter or a colleague. Ask anyone you can this question, “What would you say is the biggest challenge this position is trying to tackle?” They’ll often tell you directly.
Lastly, use the job description. Really review it and read between the lines. How are they describing the problem? A detailed examination of the job description uses a company’s own language to give you a sense of what’s most problematic or most important.
I recommend running the job description through a word cloud generator. When using a word cloud generator, copy and paste only the descriptive portion of the job posting that describes the relevant portion of the job. Don’t copy the requirements section that says, for example, “three years of managerial experience, and five years of marketing experience.” You’ll just see the word “experience” returned. Focus on copying only the portions of the job description that truly describe the job.
For illustrative purposes, I reviewed an email marketing manager position at Amazon Fashion. Using a word cloud generator, the largest or most common words returned included, “Amazon, experience, and fashion,” which makes sense given the position. Instead, look at the next-largest or medium-sized words, as the relative size of the word indicates a greater frequency in the word use, and you can hypothesize that these words are most important to the position.
For the Amazon Fashion job description, I saw the words “high, fast-paced, helping, quality, and growing.” In rereading the position requirements, I determined that the goal of the position is to help drive sales and the word “high” appeared frequently in terms such as “high-quality,” “high-growth,” and “high-aesthetics.”
During your interview, use this information to shape all of your responses. For example, by stating that your email marketing has “high aesthetics and is reviewed with the highest quality standards in mind,” you can show how you are able to drive sales. By using the language of the problem, you will be able to position yourself as the solution. It’s that simple.
Use this three-step process to make quick work of identifying what’s going to be “on the test” during your job interview. It’s all about framing yourself, and your answers, as the solution to their problem. Be the solution.